|Ambages of Resilience
Author: Celtic Oak PM
AU. After a devastating accident, the only option left is to pick up the shattered remains of life and to strive to piece them together. Yet resilience has its own agenda and the lost pieces of two broken people may just be found in each other.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Gaara & Sakura H. - Chapters: 10 - Words: 76,444 - Reviews: 364 - Favs: 224 - Follows: 267 - Updated: 06-01-13 - Published: 04-22-11 - id: 6929408
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Gotta apologize for my lack of updates once again. I was kind of caught in a time warp and had no idea how long it had been since I'd sat down to write some fanfiction. Life has a tendency to do that I'm afraid, especially when times tends to fly by at light speed and you're scrambling in your attempt to keep up.
But I'll shut up now. Hope you enjoy this chapter! I've got the next one almost completed as it is so I can promise a much quicker update this time around. Cross my heart!
As always, thanks for reading guys!
Chapter VIII – THE AWNING OF UNEXPECTED POSSIBILITIES
"I did it!" Sakura shouted at the top of her lungs. "I finally did it!"
A trill of ecstatic laughter followed her triumphant shout as she threw herself without restraint at Naruto.
His own shouts of glee echoing across the clinic, he enveloped her in a bear hug before picking her up and spinning her in his arms. The two of them laughed together, sharing the victory their joint efforts had won them that day.
After weeks of working on her knee, Sakura had finally managed to walk across the room and back by herself using the parallel support bars. When before she could barely make is halfway across before needing to stop, she had made a whole round trip from one side of the room to the other without needing Naruto's assistance even once.
Both physiotherapist and patient were overcome with elation, uncaring of the spectacle they were putting on before the other clients currently present at the clinic.
Leaning against the wall near the entrance of the main exercise room, Gaara couldn't help but respond to the delight on Sakura's face. She had just conquered an important battlefield in her campaign to overcome her disability and she had succeeded with flying colours. The redhead knew how important such events were; he remembered the first time he'd been able to pick up something again with his left arm after months of his shoulder being useless. Elation mixed with the determination to keep going no matter the frustration was heady and it fuelled one's resolve into maintaining the hard fight.
A grin spread across his face before he could check it and he chuckled appreciatively when Sakura had to smack Naruto on the head because he refused to put her down. Once he did so, she hopped on one leg towards the parallel lines, leaning against them so she could balance herself on one leg. She laughed again and lifted her eyes to where Gaara was standing.
"Did you see that?" she shouted from the other side of the room. "I finally did it!"
The redhead's smiled widened and he nodded his head in acknowledgement.
"Ah, the unrelenting power of youth!" Lee exclaimed, coming to stand beside Gaara. "It can overcome any adversity. It conquers every single time!"
The redhead inwardly groaned, dreading whatever forthcoming comment that might come from Lee's mouth. Much to his chagrin, his ability to predict the quirky man's inane remarks proved to be accurate.
"See, next time you succeed at something you should do as Sakura did," Lee said, his eyes filled with enthusiasm, "you jump straight into Naruto's arms and celebrate!"
"I will do no such thing!" Gaara bellowed vehemently in response.
Yet Lee, as always, was impervious to the threat of his temper. "Come, let us practice," he told Gaara instead. "Jump towards me and I'll catch you!"
He took a step back and opened his arms in readiness.
It was too much for Gaara to handle. His vision went red and he turned menacingly towards Lee.
"The only thing I'll be practicing is bashing your head against the wall until your brains come out," he informed the other man, his voice deadly.
"Whoa there, marine!" Tenten interrupted with a chuckle, suddenly coming between them. "No need to harass the staff."
"I'm the one being harassed by the staff," Gaara countered hotly.
Tenten grinned at him but spoke to Lee. "The last of your clients just arrived," she told him, "they're in the waiting room."
"Yosh! We'll have to leave the celebration practice for another time, Gaara," he said before making his way down the corridor, giving him a thumbs-up in farewell.
The redhead ground his teeth, taking a step to follow him and effectively act out his threat.
With a laugh, Tenten predictably stepped in his path again and prevented him from going any further.
"I could sue him, you know," Gaara told her angrily. "I could sue him for irreparable psychological damage."
Her smile only widened. "You could but then, you would have to look for another clinic with a staff willing to tolerate your grouchiness and wouldn't that be impossible to find."
Jade eyes glared openly at her but, just like Lee, she was unaffected by his menacing demeanour. There was just no getting through to these insane physiotherapists he had saddled himself with.
"Did you see me?" said a thrilled voice behind them. "I did it all on my own!"
Sakura was approaching the two of them using only one of her crutches, her face lit up with delight.
Tenten walked over to meet her and placed an arm around her shoulders. "I didn't get to see it but I surely heard you," she said with a laugh. "Congrats!"
"Thank you!" Sakura replied happily. "I have officially graduated from this phase of the treatment. Naruto says I can start using only one crutch now. If I keep this up, I might be able to start using only a cane real soon."
Gaara couldn't help surveying her as she spoke, noticing the way her eyes were virtually sparkling. Though Sakura's accident one week before hadn't resulted in any damage to her knee, he knew Naruto had been slightly apprehensive with pushing her too hard due to the resulting bruises. Yet Sakura had risen resilient and despite the lingering aches, had managed to achieve a great success only one week after her fall.
Once again, Gaara couldn't help but admire the unwavering willpower that characterised the roseate haired woman. It coloured everything she did and made her all the more exceptional in his eyes.
Tenten squeezed her friend one last time in congratulations before walking off to assist the last of her own clients. Similarly, Naruto had stayed behind in the exercise room helping out one of the other patients who was having trouble with one of the rehabilitation machines. It was only one hour before closing time and the sky peeking through the glass doors leading to the garden was already growing dark.
Sakura walked up to stand next to Gaara, the wide smile on her face still lingering. "How about we go out for dinner to celebrate my triumph? I know it's still early but I'm famished. I had a really early lunch."
With the way she was practically glowing, the redhead would have been hard pressed to say no to her even if he'd wanted to. As it was, the idea of turning her down never even crossed his mind.
"Sure thing," he replied with a nod. "Any particular food preference?"
"Italian!" Sakura answered instantly. "I've been craving some good lasagna all week."
"Alright," he said, smiling at her. "I'll wait for you by the door."
"I'll be out in a flash," she promised him, making her way towards the clinic changing rooms.
Before long, Gaara opened the front door for her and the two of them stepped out into the cool city night.
"Where to?" he asked.
"We need to get a cab. The place I have in mind is across town," she replied.
Five minutes later, after Gaara had successfully hailed a taxi, they were making their way through the Konoha streets while sharing a companionable silence on the backseat. The redhead watched the city go by through the window, immersed in his own thoughts.
Though he hated to admit it, these escapades with Sakura were becoming more and more frequent. Not that there was anything wrong with them, not in the least. Yet the two of them had fallen into a sort of routine. Whenever their appointments at the clinic coincided, they had come to an unspoken agreement that they would leave in each other's company when they were finished. But lately, even when their appointments didn't coincide, they would naturally gravitate towards each other. If Gaara finished with his physiotherapy earlier than she did, he would hang around and wait for her; if Sakura was the one out early, she would stick around the clinic kitchen until he was done. Though neither of them had said anything outright, the two of them had concurred to wait for each other.
Not that they did much after leaving. As a matter of fact, others might consider it a tad dull if they found out the truth. Depending if it was late in the day, Gaara would just escort Sakura to her hotel entrance and then leave. If it was a tad earlier, they would just sit down at the nearby park and chat for a bit over the most inconsequential things. At the most they would buy some iced coffee or eat dinner together, like they were about to do right now. Despite the marked lack of excitement, the redhead was increasingly treasuring these quiet moments by her side.
There was no need for pretence whenever he was around Sakura. No need to watch what he said or to be careful with his actions. She accepted him at face value. Sure, Gaara might make mistakes or she might not agree with his view of things but Sakura never made him feel inadequate. There was unconditional acceptance when it came to their growing bond and it was something that made the redhead feel a tad disconcerted sometimes. It wasn't a sentiment he was used to, acceptance. One always had to watch out for the hidden motives of everyone around you; it was necessary to tread on your toes and to watch over your shoulder at all times. It was a basic principle in life.
Yet, despite himself, whenever he was around Sakura he felt his defences shift. They were still there most definitely; he didn't think anything or anyone in this world would be able to make him discard them. But whenever the roseate haired woman did something that caught him off guard or whenever she acted on his behalf without really expecting anything in return, Gaara felt the concrete walls of the bunker he'd erected around his inner self flex. They twisted and created an opening; a small breach through which Sakura could slip through.
And the most amazing thing of all was that he didn't mind.
Gaara didn't care that she managed to slip through. As a matter of fact, if he was entirely honest, it felt good. He liked how she managed to trigger things within him that no one else ever had; he enjoyed having her push his limits. He was discovering things about human interaction he had never thought possible before and though he was still somewhat apprehensive in regards to his reviving humanity, one thing was perfectly clear: it couldn't have been anyone else but Sakura. Before he could do anything about it, she had slipped through and his inner defences had tightened around her and refused to let her go. Gaara didn't know what this meant; he was only sure of what he was feeling. After having denied himself the opportunity to experience these kinds of emotions for his whole life, he was still an amateur at it. Nonetheless, this didn't mean he wasn't certain of what he was feeling. He might not be able to accurately describe or understand what was going on inside him but he was very much aware of a rather prominent change within him.
While he had fought it before and had felt disconcerted because of it, he was over that phase now. Having come to Sakura's rescue and the resulting gratitude he'd been showered with in that regard had allowed his uncertainty to settle. He'd found that some truths had been easier to accept than he'd initially thought. Friendship, much to his complete astonishment, was not a burden after all. It was useless sometimes to fight against the tide, Gaara knew. Sometimes you had to allow yourself to be swept away since resistance would only lead you to drown yourself while you struggled. It was best to see where the current would lead you, thinking your way through as you went.
Personally, he did not have a clue as to what the final outcome might be. But he was unfazed in regards to this. Whatever the hurdle, he would overcome it like he had always done. It was just a matter of adapting and working things out as they came along. If there was something he had learned during his long years in Phantasma it was that, most of the time, planning never got you anywhere. The unexpected had a rather insistent tendency of showing up to bite you in the rear and all your carefully laid out plans would end up counting for absolutely nothing. So no, he was not about to get ahead of himself.
His long months of physical rehabilitation had made it clear that patience was an invaluable asset. It was also something he'd always lacked. Thus, as things stood, life was throwing a thousand things his way and he was being forced to deal with them all at the same time. It seemed to be making up for all those years he'd refused to listen; all those years he'd spent immersed in a red haze of killing instincts and all-consuming rage.
Well, he was listening now. Life was free to throw whatever it wanted at him. He would just have to learn to effectively sidestep to avoid a direct hit. After all, Gaara had always thrived on challenges.
Yet he wasn't stupid. The redhead knew there were always risks involved. In point of fact, he was rather greatly aware of the particular dangers circling round his person. Courtesy of the lunatic pair of ex-comrades in arms he had inadvertently stumbled upon, he had more information about his past life than he cared to have.
His phone conversation with Deidara still triggered some rather raw emotions inside him. Disbelief was a prominent one; to think a previous member of Phantasma would actually go out of his way to warn another about his safety was nothing short of ludicrous. For this to happen when they were in the line of duty, and grudgingly forced to cover each other's backs, it wouldn't have been so bad; it might have been a long shot yet still plausible. But for Deidara to call him and alert him in regards to the actions of their ex-commander when he had long ceased to be part of Phantasma?
Complete and utter rubbish. Gaara would have cut off his right hand swearing it wasn't possible.
Yet here he was, officially warned by Deidara and the amnesiac Sasori.
Sometimes, like right now, he had to blink a few times to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
Of course, with the insinuations of what he'd been informed, anger had quickly followed behind disbelief. That he would be implicated in an event that had occurred after he had long since ceased to have any kind of connection with Phantasma was something that rustled the dormant beast within. It was half awake now, waiting patiently in a corner of Gaara's mind. With the slightest provocation, it would stir to life and not even his obstinate willpower would be able to keep it in check.
Not that he wanted to. He had no intention of holding the beast back if a threat to the hard won balance he had achieved in his life arose.
Looking up at the happy woman sitting on the other side of the cab seat, Gaara knew with chilling certainty there was nothing he wouldn't do to protect her. Nothing he wouldn't do to keep her away from harm. And not only her, he reluctantly admitted, but the self-proclaimed Physiotherapy Brigade as well. Just like Sakura had wormed her way within, so had the other members of the clinic. As much as he hated to acknowledge it, they were now part of this new life he was making for himself; they were a building block of it at that. Gaara would not allow any threat to their safety or any danger to come near them.
Such protective instincts were a rather novel experience for him but much to his surprise, he actually welcomed them. After having spent the entirety of his adult life fighting for someone else's cause and doing someone else's dirty work without caring what the reasons behind it all were, it was rather refreshing to have something worth exerting himself for. To have something he truly cared for as the foundation for his actions. It was a rather alien concept for him and one he was learning how to deal with as he went but Gaara couldn't help feeling justified in stance. The strength he'd always prided himself in could now be put to some productive use and not to mindless killing and rampant destruction. For the first time in his entire life, there was a cause behind his actions now.
Of course, this didn't mean his ruthlessness had lessened. Not in the least. Point of fact, it might just have become keener. If an actual threat came up and the danger to those around him became a reality, Gaara held no qualms in dealing out merciless punishment to whoever it was behind the menace. He would maim, pummel and destroy. That much was certain. He would cut through whatever enemy crossed his path and would eradicate any threat, just like he'd always done. His past, at least, had served for that much.
Before, he'd been criticised because of his supposed arrogance. But the others had never understood; it was not arrogance that fuelled him, it was an encompassing certainty that left no room for doubt. During his years as a lethal operative, once he had an objective in mind he set out to achieve it without the possibility of him failing ever crossing his mind. Gaara knew his skills and knew his limitations, which meant he could work around them. A cold and calculating mind coupled with a body keenly honed to be a killing weapon had turned him into an unstoppable force. What others mistook for overconfidence was in fact a sense of absolute assurance. There was nothing anyone could throw at him that he wouldn't be able to overcome, sidestep or directly destroy. His recovering shoulder injury was just the latest entry in a long list of similar experiences. Time and time again he had proven this as fact throughout the years until he'd finally become one of Phantasma's most valuable assets.
Hence, if his ex-commander showed up at his door and threatened the peaceful existence he had been able to recently attain, Gaara knew exactly what he would do.
He would kill Pein.
It was as simple and straightforward as that.
They might end up destroying each other in the process; his commander was, after all, one of the deadliest men walking the face of the world. But the end result would be the same: Pein would die. In this way, the threat he posed would be eradicated and those Gaara cared for would be safe.
He had already given up too many things for Phantasma's sake. Gaara had renounced his humanity and had forsaken his soul all on behalf of the deadly platoon. He might have been indifferent to what he was doing back then but he certainly was not indifferent now. The time for sacrificing was long past; he would not allow Phantasma to take anything else away. Not while he still drew breath.
With this resolute thought in mind, he noticed the cab pulling up to the curb. They had finally arrived at the Italian restaurant Sakura had chosen. As distracted as he was, she had taken out her wallet before he could do anything and was already paying the driver.
Once he'd assisted her out of the car, Gaara narrowed her eyes at her. "Alright, I'm paying for dinner then," he remarked gruffly.
Sakura chuckled at him and swatted him playfully on the chest. "In that case, I'm eating a full course meal!" she teased.
The unamused look he threw her way only made her laugh all the harder.
As she proceeded to make her way towards the restaurant door, Gaara turned to follow her, her carefree laughter still ringing in his ears.
There was nothing he would not do to prevent that sound from ever disappearing. He knew this for a fact. If he had to become a merciless killer once again, so be it. He would never regret his choice.
Nodding at himself with the certainty of his resolution, Gaara walked into the restaurant after Sakura. His turbulent emotions finally settling, he allowed himself to enjoy her company for the rest of the evening.
"It's an insult to my intelligence for you to think I haven't noticed!" Naruto exclaimed.
Sakura couldn't help snorting surreptitiously into the plastic container of the yogurt she was currently eating. "Haven't noticed what?" she asked, feigning ignorance.
The blond's bright blue eyes narrowed menacingly. "That you leave in his company every single day."
It was the middle of the afternoon and they were sitting in the clinic's kitchen. Sakura had just finished with her exercise routine and was waiting for Neji to finish up with another client so she could proceed with the second half of the day's therapy. Naruto, noticing her sitting by herself, had pounced on her with his rowdy yet well-meaning accusations.
If she hadn't been feeling so light-hearted, Sakura would have been annoyed at this unnecessary protectiveness. But the truth was not even Naruto's delusions of adopting the role of older brother could come between her and the fluttery happiness she felt within her. Not that anything out of the ordinary had happened; no, things were more or less practically the same. Yet there was an undercurrent of change flowing in the air that could not be denied.
And for the first time in a series of long months, Sakura was happily wondering just what the future might bring.
Sakura knew there were no heroes; no knights in shining armour. You didn't wake up one day to find a champion at your doorstep that would defeat the monster and take all your troubles away. Such a farce was something Sakura had learned firsthand to completely dismiss. In the real world, there was nothing for a girl to do but to save herself. It was common knowledge and the basis with which she lived her life.
You had to lick your wounds and get back up by yourself, time and time again.
But lately, she had been privy to a startling revelation: just because you had to save yourself didn't mean there weren't helping hands along the way. This didn't mean life wouldn't open doors for you, even though these openings would present themselves in the unlikeliest manners. You might not recognize them as a door to begin with, in fact; you might even pass them by without noticing them.
It was true: there had never been any heroes in Sakura's life. All because she been looking in all the wrong places and had been expecting all the wrong things.
Heroes didn't show up out of the blue to charge in. No. Heroes, as it turned out, had always been there, their heroic actions inconspicuous because of their subtlety. Hidden behind Naruto's hand whenever he helped her to get up after her knee had given way after a strenuous exercise, concealed behind Tenten's smile when she picked Sakura up so they could go get a pedicure and masked behind Neji's query of what she wanted to have for lunch. Heroic actions had always been categorized as extravagant and embellished. Heroes could be recognized thanks to the fantastical deeds they performed. But this concept, Sakura thought, was rather discriminating. It left no room for other types of heroes, for those who were there every day, living their lives just like everyone else. No room for those who, like Lee, would brew her favourite blend of coffee every single morning even though she might not have an early appointment and would only show up at the clinic until later.
It left no space for a prickly kind of hero with absolutely no social skills, one who would offer her comfort by just being his temperamental and cynical self.
No, Sakura realized, it hadn't been their fault she had believed they weren't there. It had been entirely hers. She had been duped by the popular belief of what being a hero was supposed to be like; she had believed it and had been left utterly disappointed. Bitter and jaded, she had scoffed and mocked, considering herself above any such ridiculousness. It hadn't been their fault, those heroes in her life, she had been too blind by her own harsh experiences to properly see them. She'd been rendered too insensitive by the past to realize what their actions truly meant.
Because in the end, this was her life; it was her story. It was only fitting for her to be the leading heroine. Saving herself was an implicit necessity of her role in her own personal tale. But this didn't mean she wouldn't be accompanied by an array of spectacular supporting characters. Each one the hero in their own particular struggle, all of them intertwining and interacting in an attempt to make the best of what had been handed to them.
And as the leading heroine she was meant to be, it was her call to pick the one who would play her partner in this tale of hers. Before, Sakura had been attracted to darker types; dark eyes and dark hair had proved to be her undoing. This time around she found she was developing a noticeable fondness for reddish locks and viridian irises.
To her astounded surprise, she discovered she was ready to take a step in that direction once again. To begin to accept the possibility of being able to open her fragile heart once more in expectant hope of what might be. It had happened without her noticing. As such, she had been caught completely unawares. At some point between sharing casual chats at the clinic and him showing up to help her after her accident at the shopping centre, Sakura had found her heart shifting without her consent.
Independent and rebellious as it was, her heart had given way without her explicit permission. Now it craved Gaara's company and looked forward to seeing him. It forced her to think about him more often than not, luring her into picturing possibilities she had never contemplated before. Despite the fact that their relationship hadn't moved anywhere beyond friendship and was comprised of moments appropriate for a PG rated movie, Sakura couldn't help relish in the jittery feelings she was experiencing.
At one point after her accident, she resolutely believed she would never be able to experience such carefree emotions ever again in her life.
Sakura had never been happier to have been proven wrong.
Consequently, she was rather enjoying herself with Naruto. She knew deep down inside he didn't disapprove of her and Gaara's relationship. As a matter of fact, he had been the one who had encouraged it in the first place. It was just overprotective delusions that were coming to the fore again; he always had this reaction at first whenever it came to Sakura and boys. So in a sense, Sakura was delighting in the usual routine that came up whenever she showed interest in a member of the opposite sex. It was reassuring to know some things, despite the many changes that might take place around them, would always remain the same.
"You would be walking out of here holding hands if you didn't have to use a crutch to walk!" he accused, his arms crossed over his chest. He was making his best attempt to loom threateningly over her.
Poor man hadn't realized Sakura had been immune to his physical intimidation since back in elementary school. Once, she had punched him flat out for trying to use her bicycle without permission. After that there was nothing Naruto could ever do to regain an imposing stance in her regard.
But let him keep his illusions. It did no harm for him to live in his own little world.
Thus, Sakura turned sweet emerald eyes up to him and batted her eyelashes. "Don't be silly," she replied. "Gaara would never consent to something like holding hands."
Naruto gaped at her thinly veiled acceptance of what he was implying, resulting in Sakura laughing out loud at his expression.
"You...you... admit..." he stuttered.
She graced him with a haughty glance before turning back to her yogurt. "I'm not admitting anything. You're the one who came here and interrupted my snack time with your loud accusations."
His blue eyes narrowed once again. "But you're not denying it either!" he countered in irritation.
Sakura shrugged, dipping her spoon into the yogurt container to dig out the last of her snack. "You were the one who wanted us to be friends in the first place. Ask him about his life yourself, you said. So I did," she remarked.
"Yes but that didn't mean you were supposed to let him into your pan-" he came to an abrupt stop at the deadly glare she turned his way, "...into your life so easily," he quickly corrected himself.
"Now listen here, kiddo. You've got some guts parading in here with that little speech. Who was the one who invited Gaara into all our lives in the first place?" Sakura accused, her tone menacing. "Besides, I can be friends with whomever I want to."
"It's not the being friends part I'm worried about," Naruto mumbled before exclaiming. "I want to know just what his intentions are!"
"I'm sure he'll be happy to give you a direct answer," Sakura countered in dark amusement. "So why don't you ask Gaara yourself?"
The blond opened his mouth to reply but another voice, coming from kitchen doorway, beat him to it.
"Ask me what?"
The two of them turned to find the redhead they had been discussing standing there, his bag over his good shoulder. He had just walked into the clinic for his afternoon rehab appointment.
Sakura smiled sweetly at him and greeted him happily while Naruto levelled him with a glare.
From the look in his eyes, the redhead found the situation unusual but not unsurprising. For him it was just another strange event in the long line of erratic occurrences in the madcap physiotherapy clinic he frequented.
"What do you want to ask me about?" Gaara inquired again in an irritated tone. He hated having to repeat himself.
Sakura smiled expectantly at Naruto.
The blond was blushing from what she could guess what equal parts embarrassment and annoyance.
It was her turn to deliver her coup de grace. "He was wondering if you'd managed to pick up our movie tickets for tonight," she replied, smiling at the redhead. "Since I told him you haven't been to the movies in literally years, he was rather enthusiastic about you finally getting the chance. So he was offering to go get the tickets if you hadn't had time."
Gaara cocked his head thoughtfully to one side while he rummaged in the back pocket of his jeans. "No need, I picked them up on the way here," he said, brandishing two IMAX tickets in front of Naruto's eyes. "The movie's at seven."
"Perfect, that should give you enough time to finish with your routine and to shower afterwards," Sakura replied. "I'll wait for you here after I'm done with Neji."
The redhead nodded.
Naruto, who had been listening to this exchange while growing more agitated by the second, couldn't hold his ire in anymore and growled in frustration. He stomped his way over to Gaara and stood menacingly in front of the redhead.
"Oh you're in for it now, buster," he said, poking Gaara in the chest. "I'll have you begging for mercy after the routine I'll run you through today!"
Gaara, though he had absolutely no idea of what had riled Naruto up, was not about to back down. He'd never responded positively to hostility in his entire life; he wasn't about to start now. "I'd like to see you try, blondie" he replied scornfully, his jade eyes narrowing dangerously.
Much to Sakura's astonishment, the two of them proceeded to snarl at each other for a few intense moments.
"Break it up to you two," Tenten exclaimed from the corridor, "and let me pass. Take your testosterone hissy fit somewhere where it won't bother anyone else."
The two of them exchanged one more menacing glance before breaking apart, Gaara heading towards the changing room and Naruto walking down the hallway in the opposite direction. Tenten stepped into the kitchen, a coffee cup and a plate in her hands, shaking her head.
"What the hell is up with them?" she asked. "Like if we don't have enough to deal with already." She placed the dirty dishes in the sink and started to wash them.
Luckily, her question had been rhetorical and had no need to be answered. Thus, Sakura was left to her own devices in her attempt to stifle her growing mirth at the exchange she had just witnessed. She finished her yogurt with a flourish and decided that things could only get more interesting from now on.
"What were you really talking about with Naruto this afternoon?" Gaara asked her later.
He had just returned from buying some popcorn and soft drinks after escorting her to their seats first. Normally he would've allowed her to walk into the movie theatre by herself but since she had started using only one crutch until rather recently, the two of them thought it only right to be prudent. She had to descend a few steps inside the theatre to reach their seats. Though she hadn't fallen even once since the change and was an expert with crutches by now, it still took some getting used to. They weren't about to take any chances, not with her recent accident history.
Sakura smiled her thanks at him as he handed her the popcorn and sat down next to her. "If you really want to know the truth, we were talking about you."
"That much I could easily surmise," he replied drily. "Why was he all riled up like that?"
Sakura cringed slightly. "Did he really act on his threat of making you workout until you dropped?"
"He tried," Gaara remarked arrogantly, "but he didn't succeed. He sometimes forgets I'm used to some really harsh training, especially when he's worked up. The moron."
She chuckled at his haughty certainty in regards to his physical prowess. If this was how he viewed himself after being severely injured and recovering, Sakura quaked to think what he must have been like before.
"Well, let just say he was being the protective idiot he tends to be," she told him finally.
"Protective? Over what?" he asked, still perplexed at the blond's reaction. "Of you spending time with me? He ought to know you're safer with me than with anyone else, including him. I'm a trained specialist. My last performance during a crisis speaks for itself."
Sakura couldn't help but smile widely at his response. Trust the ex-military operative with no people skills to miss the point of Naruto's worry entirely.
"Yes it does," Sakura wholeheartedly agreed with his words. "I've never felt safer."
He grunted in affirmative response, turning towards the screen and the movie trailers they were currently showing.
Sakura looked at him out the corner of her eye and continued to grin. She wasn't planning on clarifying things for him just yet. If she told him what Naruto's stance was, he might react adversely. It was certain he would get angry at the blond for being an overprotective ass but when it came to her, Sakura wasn't sure what his reaction might be. Gaara might become self-conscious around her or might even try to avoid her altogether; this was the last thing she wanted. Since he was rather new at this whole interpersonal interaction deal, she wasn't about to take any chances. What she wanted the most was for him to enjoy himself and for things to flow naturally between them.
There was no point in going at anyone's pace but their own. That was something Naruto needed to get into his stubborn head. Still, it didn't mean Sakura couldn't have a little fun at her friend's expense. Like earlier that afternoon, she was bound to have quite a few laughs.
As the movie started, she let out a deep content sigh before sliding down slightly on her seat and leaning her head against Gaara's left shoulder. For her, it was a completely natural gesture and one that felt inexplicably right. He didn't seem to mind; as a matter of fact, as the movie progressed, he shifted slightly for her to lean against him more comfortably.
Later that night, once he had reached his apartment, Gaara admitted something rather surprising to himself. Since his devastating injury, his bad shoulder had never felt as good as it had tonight, with Sakura resting against it.
"I'll let you know I'm utterly against this," Tenten said. "It violates all the principles we strive to work for on a daily basis."
"So you've told me a thousand times," Naruto replied, rolling his eyes.
"Nothing good can come of this," she reiterated. Her hand unwillingly rose to pinch the bridge of her nose, a gesture she'd been repeating non-stop since the blond had walked into one of the back rooms to inform her of the proceedings.
"I'm not so sure of it either," Sakura confessed.
Admittedly, Lee had been driving Gaara up the wall more than usual these past few days; something about Lee insisting on them practicing some sort special celebration. Whenever Lee mentioned it, it made the redhead explode in a matter of milliseconds. Sakura had no idea what Lee was talking about or why Gaara reacted so violently yet the animosity emanating from the redhead was proving to be rather problematic. It if hadn't been for Neji's timely intervention, Gaara would have certainly throttled Lee in front of some of the other patients during one particularly nasty incident.
In an attempt to bring peace, Naruto had stepped in and proposed a rather Naruto-like solution to the hostilities.
Consequently, a couple of days later, Sakura found herself sitting on a plastic chair to one side of the big exercise room, looking rather sceptically at the men standing at its centre. An impromptu boxing ring had been set up on the mats, the strings having been enthusiastically acquired by Naruto. Sakura wondered just where the hell he'd gotten the setup as well as the equipment but had refrained from asking. She had other more pressing issues to worry about.
"Are you sure about this?" she asked, unable to hide the worry in her voice.
"Perfectly sure," Naruto informed her cheerily. "You two really shouldn't fret so much. This is completely supervised fun. Besides, you've got to be kidding yourself if you think Gaara hasn't wanted to have a go at Lee since the first day he stepped in here."
Tenten sighed. "And you think it's wise to indulge him in that respect? You know his irritation has been riding him harder than usual these past few days."
Naruto's grin only widened. "Precisely! He'll get exactly what he wants and then he'll let it go."
"And his shoulder? It's the reason why he comes here in the first place, remember," Sakura told him pointedly.
He only waved his hand in dismissal. "His shoulder's the strongest it's ever been. I want to see how far he can push it. It won't be more than a few minutes though, so you can stop being such a pair of worrywarts." With that, he left the two women to approach the improvised ring.
Neji was standing to one side, tying up Lee's gloves. Naruto walked over to Gaara, who was already inside the ring. He examined the redhead's injured shoulder one last time before judging him good to go. He picked up Gaara's head protector from the floor and helped him strap it on. It was, naturally, afterhours. There were no other patients around to witness the last spectacle one would like to see at one's physiotherapy clinic. Sakura was extremely grateful for this since this latest idea of Naruto's could turn ugly pretty fast.
They were supposed to be a rehab clinic, for crying out loud! They weren't supposed to promote activities that sent people to physical therapy in the first place.
No matter what he did, either in the personal or professional arena, Naruto's penchant for chaos always reared its ugly head.
"Men, I'm afraid, are utterly incomprehensible creatures sometimes," Tenten remarked with a shake of her head. Her eyes bored into Neji's back; she couldn't believe her usually sensible boyfriend was enthusiastically contributing to this absurd scheme.
Sakura nodded, overwhelmed with incredulity. "I just hope Lee goes easy on him. He's a patient, after all."
"I was actually contemplating things the other way around," Tenten confessed apprehensively. "Hopefully Gaara won't go all out on him. I mean, the difference in their weight couldn't be more blatant."
And she was right. Lee was muscular but amazingly lean. It was evident the redhead had the advantage of muscular mass on his side.
"That means he'll be all the quicker," Sakura said. "He'll be able to dance around Gaara and throw in more punches."
"True," her friend replied. "But with his weight behind his offense, Gaara only needs to land a single punch to knock him out... especially when it comes to his right hook."
Sakura clearly remembered the way he had battered the wall the time he'd dropped Tenten's bag when his shoulder had given way. It seemed her friend was thinking about that incident too. The two of them turned towards each other, sharing an intense look of trepidation.
The two women groaned before facing back towards the enthusiastic men. This whole thing had the potential of turning into a complete fiasco, especially when one considered the opponents' opposite personalities. It was simply inevitable for Lee's enthusiasm to ignite the redhead's temper, especially when Gaara was running on such a short fuse. And if the ex-military operative truly lost it, all of them would have to make a run for the nearest exit.
But there was no stopping either of the combatants. Lee, calling upon the unlimited power of youth, jumped into the ring and raised his gloved fists at the redhead. Gaara just looked at him with an intense glare, as if he couldn't wait to pommel him to the ground. Naruto stepped into the ring to act as referee while Neji stood to the side, holding his cell phone as an impromptu bell.
When the bell ringtone chimed announcing the start of the fight, Tenten and Sakura groaned in unison and braced themselves for the worst.
In the end, it didn't turn out all that bad... or well, not as bad as it could've gone. Lee danced lithely around Gaara just like Sakura had predicted; he moved with grace and speed. But like Tenten had said, the redhead definitely did not hold back when it came to delivering his punches. His jabs connected rather forcefully with Lee's middle section, so much so that the enthusiastic man had to catch his breath before continuing a couple of times.
Naruto moved around with the two of them inside the ring, a wide grin on his face. It was rather obvious he was enjoying himself excessively. Nonetheless, before things got out of hand and before either of the two combatants showed any signs of fatigue, he called a stop to the match.
Though Gaara looked like he was about to overrule the referee's signal to halt and continue punishing Lee, he did step back and allowed himself to be led towards his corner. As he took off his head protector, Lee exclaimed in satisfaction, telling the redhead they could have a rematch whenever he wanted. Naruto perked up at the idea; maybe they could turn this improvised boxing match into a weekly event.
Tenten intervened right about then, stepping up and voicing her adverse opinion without holding anything back. Sakura cringed slightly as she delivered some particularly nasty remarks in regards to Naruto's dire lack of intelligence. They quickly fell into an argument, with Lee backing Naruto up and Neji trying to calm Tenten down.
As they bickered back and forth, Gaara slid himself underneath the ring cords and walked over to where Sakura was sitting.
"Feeling better?" she asked, a wry look in her emerald eyes.
He smirked deviously before replying. "Immensely. I could've gone on a lot longer if I'd been allowed. Had a few months of accumulated Lee-related frustration to let out." As he spoke, he stuck out his wrists at her so she could help him pull off his boxing gloves.
Sakura narrowed her eyes at his comment but proceeded to help him take them off. "There are other ways of dealing with frustration other than battering someone else's head into a pulp."
He had to chuckle at that. "There might be but no other method could be even half as satisfying." He flexed his fingers when his hands were free of his gloves. "You should try it sometime."
It was her turn to smile. She had to admit that hitting Naruto with her crutches when he got particularly obtuse had always been greatly gratifying.
Gaara turned to look at the others who were still in the middle of a heated argument. It seemed Tenten was not going to back down no matter what. They could go on for hours if allowed. He shook his head wryly. "How about we cut a hasty retreat while the members of the idiot brigade proceed to tear each other to shreds?"
Sakura chuckled. "Excellent idea. But only on one condition."
"We stop for some ice cream along the way."
His lips quirked up at her characteristic need for some kind of food. He readily agreed. "Let me get changed and we'll be off."
Sakura got up as inconspicuously as she could from her chair and started making her way to the front of the clinic. The redhead caught up to her a few minutes later. He still had the shorts he'd been wearing for his boxing match on but had changed his t-shirt and had thrown on a hooded navy blue jacket. His hair was wet after having quickly washed himself.
"Ready?" Sakura asked, the backpack holding her things already on her back.
"Lead the way," he replied.
Once again, the two of them slipped out of the clinic in each other's company, ready for another evening spent together. Gaara momentarily thought how easy it had been to get used to such jaunts and how welcome they now were, completely unaware that in that instant, Sakura was thinking the exact same thing.
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